872 words (3 minute read)

1. Situation Critical

Dr. Ha reclined in his chair and hoisted his feet up onto the workstation’s control console. A glance at the clock told him it was nearly 2 a.m. Having drawn the short straw, he sat alone in the quiet, darkened lab while the rest of his team slept downstairs in their quarters. No matter. He wasn’t tired.

Six giant monitors lined the wall above his head; each displayed a live video feed of Earth as it quietly and uneventfully rotated in space. Even after years of observation, he hadn’t tired of this view.

His thoughts drifted to the people down there on the blue and green planet. He wondered what they were doing at this—

The lab’s overhead lights sprang to life and flooded the research lab. At the same time, angry red sensors flicked on in quick succession all across the console like an outbreak of electronic hives.

Dr. Ha bolted upright, and slid his chair next to a computer monitor. Data cascaded down the screen too quickly to follow. He grabbed the nearby keyboard and attacked it in a flurry of fingers.

“Alert. Specimen number six-eight-four. Situation critical.”

It was the computer, CRIS, telling him that some major shit was about to go down unless he could get it under control. Now he had to find out what “it” was. Although he suspected he already knew.

“Alert. Specimen number six-eight-four. Situation critical.”

She sounds so blasé that an entire planet is in crisis, he thought continuing to type frantically. Athena probably programmed her deliberately to be a sociopath.

The deluge of data continued. He could catch snippets, patterns he’d seen before. Too many times before.

“Alert. Specimen number six-eight-four. Situation critical.”

A low rumble emanated from overhead. It came from the monitor’s speakers. Suddenly Dr. Ha stopped typing and looked up.

“No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no—”

On one of the screens, the Earth’s equator had burst into a belt of flames. The rumble intensified as the planet’s surface caught fire entirely. Finally, with a deafening pop, the Earth burst into billions of pieces.

Dr. Ha sat there agape as an uncomfortable silence fell over the lab. Now there was only space dust where the Earth had been. The word “TERMINATED” appeared on the screen. On the adjacent monitors, the remaining five Earths rotated unaware of what had just befallen their sibling.

“Fuck.”

“What’s going on up there, Dr. Ha?” a woman’s voice croaked through a speaker on the console. It was Dr. Maria Godwin, the head of the research team and founder of the facility. The computer must have alerted her.

“We just lost six-eight-four,” he replied.

“I see,” she said. “That leaves us with how many?”

“Five….”

Without warning, a second Earth exploded.

“…Four.”

“Shit, Budd. Were you able to see the data stream?”

“For six-eight-four, yes.”

“Same as the others?”

“Same as the others,” he replied.

“Ok, reduce the timeline progression of the remaining specimens to synch with ours. Hopefully this stop any more of this from happening tonight. Then wake the team and tell them to meet in the conference room in 45 minutes. Bring the data.”

Budd typed a series of commands on the keyboard and hit return. “Done.”

“All right. See you shortly.” And, with a hiss of feedback, she was gone.

Budd emitted a long, defeated sigh as he pushed his chair back from the desk. When it finally rolled to a stop about 10 feet away, he stood up and headed toward the lab’s far wall. There stood the 1,000 glass containers stacked from floor to ceiling in neat columns. Of course, 996 of them were now empty.

A lump formed in his throat as he fought to hold back tears. All those lives lost. He knew he shouldn’t get attached, but he couldn’t help it.

That’s just who I am, he thought, as he wiped the snot bubble from his nose with a lab coat sleeve.

Dr. Ha leaned close to one of the containers and peered in. He could see the elaborate and elegant dance of the tiny, swirling universe within. An occasional galaxy would swing close to the glass, shimmering with the light of a billion stars. Of course, he couldn’t make out anything distinct—much less the Earth they had placed way in center—but he knew it was there.

With his lips nearly touching the glass, he faintly whispered, “I know you can’t hear me, but I promise you, as one of your creators I will do everything I can to keep you saf—.“

“Alert. Specimen four-four-four. Situation critical.”

The whir of a motor, followed by a swirling vortex of universe being flushed down a drain at the bottom of the container like someone’s deceased goldfish.

“Oh, come on!”

He stood there a few moments and stared into the emptiness. More unsettling, though, was that he could feel the emptiness stare back.







Next Chapter: 2. Jasmine Jones